STREETSIDE: 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier Wagon – Patinated Utility

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California’s mild climate is exceedingly easy on cars, and it can slow the process of decay to a crawl, as this original blue-plate Cavalier shows.


The Cavalier eventually became a best-seller after its May 21, 1981 launch, but not at first. Those initial General Motors J-cars – the Cavalier, Pontiac J2000 and Cadillac Cimarron – had weak engines and expensive prices.

Slightly improved powerplants and an entry-level price drop – made possible by a massive shift of equipment from standard fare to the options list – found the Cavalier gaining steam, to the point where you’d see Cavaliers coming and going, wherever you went.

Find a vintage Chevrolet Cavalier near you with BestRide’s local search.

This Cavalier wagon found on the streets of San Francisco is one of the basic ones, with very little trim besides the wraparound bodyside molding and the shiny stuff around the windows. If you wanted chrome dressing for the wheel openings and rocker panels, you would have added an adjusted-for-2015 $121 to this Cavalier’s $14,555 base price. The bodyside rub strips would be $99…


…and the roof rack would have added $230. The wood extenders on this one are a DIY way to add to its functionality.


The integral air deflector in the hatch door was standard.


Inside, this Cavalier went without the fancy CL Custom Interior group ($713) and stuck with the base vinyl seats…


…and the seats in this Cavalier certainly seem to have taken one for the team.


The black sport wheel, which dated back to early-’70s Chevys, would be an $88 option. Hard to imagine those spokes not blocking the gauges, but maybe it wouldn’t be an issue if you tilted your head just right.


The argent-toned steel wheels with center caps were common for ’80s econocars. These didn’t have the $114 trim rings that would have brightened up the outer rims, but they also probably would have dragged against SF’s curbs while parking.


The patina of rust is the most interesting thing about this vintage Cavalier; rather than punching oxidized holes into the sheetmetal, California’s mild weather has done a slow drag across the its surface. Upturned surfaces show how sun exposure gradually had its way with the finish…


…and the hood is a display for the environment’s peeling off of the Cavalier’s outer layers.


Blandness, thy name was Cavalier. Most were used like appliances and then cast off when the repair bills outpaced the car’s value. But it’s nice to see this wagon is still making its rounds, patina and all.

Find a vintage Chevrolet Cavalier near you with BestRide’s local search.